The Netherlands’ second city, Rotterdam, is full of surprises. There’s much to see – and snap – for the design-minded. Architecture buffs will swoon at Piet Blom’s Cube Houses, tilted at crazy angles. Public art is everywhere in this city, from figures by De Kooning and Rodin to Paul McCarthy’s louche Santa Claus. Sreet art’s thriving too: check out Rewriters’ tours or free map, and look for Tymon de Laat’s spray-painted marriage proposal.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, take refuge under the soaring, mural-printed roof of De Markthal. Lunch at this ultra-modern food market is always an adventure: there’s street food of every stripe, from tapas to churros, hotdogs to traditional raw herring. From art-packed museums to the trendiest shops and sweetest cocktail spots, here’s how to spend 36 hours in Rotterdam.

    • Cultural hits

      Get your bearings from the top of the Euromast, a slender observation tower with a rotating glass lift, before hitting the Museumpark. From Picasso’s prints to a potted history of sci-fi, Kunsthal Rotterdam is known for its eclectic programme. Get lost in the sprawling Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, whose highlights run from Bruegel’s Tower of Babel to an Infinity Room by Yayoi Kusama.

    • For the kids

      Burn off excess energy with a clamber over historic ships in the harbour by the Maritime Museum, then head inside for hands-on exhibits. Small fry love Miniworld, an intricate scale model of the city and port with working trains and day-to-night lighting. Feeling competitive? Get an intergenerational flicking match going on the Dutch Pinball Museum’s collection of vintage machines.

    • Where to eat

      Score a table overlooking the water at Harvest Coffee Brewers and linger over brunch: grilled peach with granola, say, or hazelnut-crumbed mushrooms on toast.  Head to Alfredo’s Taqueria for tacos, creamy frijoles and burritos, or swing by the cobalt-blue bar for a margarita or two. For dinner, stylish Héroine serves up inventive, ever-changing tasting menus.

    • Hit the shops

      Everything at Groos has been designed and made by locals, from stackable coffee cups to artisan vermouth. Head to De Bonte Koe for artisan chocolates and hagelslag – chocolate sprinkles the Dutch eat on toast. A pink-painted shop, Evernow, is full of cute non-essentials: think wild-tobacco candles and botanical prints.

    • Where to get a tipple

      Just off Witte de Withstraat (aka nightlife central), laid-back Café LaBru has live music and a superb array of gins. Or go off the beaten track in the Oude Noorden neighbourhood, where Rose Rouge combines dreamy décor with expertly-mixed cocktails. Tucked under a railway arch on hip Raampoortstraat, Bird is always jumping with jazz, blues, funk and hip hop.

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Image credits: © Stuart Milne; © Stuart Milne; © Alamy; © Maritime Museum; © Alfredo’s Taqueria; © Stuart Milne; © Mark Bolk; © Zeezout; © Shutterstock; © de Groene Passage